As Thanksgiving draws near with new approaches to hosting the holidays amid the pandemic, a strong Wi-Fi connection may be a resounding answer for what people are grateful for this year.
Whether you plan to gather a few people online for a video call or have bigger aspirations to get your entire extended family connected from afar, we could all use some expert advice to make sure the virtual festivities go off without a hitch.
Vivian Chaves, a virtual experiences expert at Eventbrite, spoke to "Good Morning America" about how to best prepare to host a successful Thanksgiving celebration.
1. Decide how big your virtual guest list will be
"The first thing to think about is what will be a positive addition to your holiday. It’s important to create an experience that will meet the needs of your guests, but you also want to make sure it’s going to be a fun experience for you," Chaves suggested. "If you’re aching to feel closer to family, think about how to make a safe, intimate event that will bring you together. If you’re looking to turn up the dial and make it a big party, start creating a fun, full-out event."
2. Create a landing page for the event online
"Make it an occasion! Instead of sending your typical email invite, try something new to turn your event into a unique experience: create an online event page, and invite friends and family to register to attend," Chaves encouraged.
Using a self-service platform can be a fun way to collect RSVPs and make the experience feel more official, she added.
"You can also use the platform to engage with guests leading up to the event, sending them email reminders about what day and time it starts, what they need to do to prepare and more."
3. Create an itinerary and send it to guests ahead of time
There are a few things hosts should share with guests ahead of time, such as a rough timeline of the day's events.
"It’s helpful to create touch points throughout your virtual experience and make a schedule for your guests -- but also be ready to roll with last-minute changes," she said.
With more people juggling kids, roommates, family and other unique at-home scenarios during a virtual experience, Chaves said an agenda is bound to be a helpful tool for everyone and gives people more flexibility to tune in at the right time.
"Sharing it in advance can help guests structure their home life so they can tune into the elements of the experience that they’re especially excited by," she explained. "For example, one person might prefer to join a cocktail hour and skip the actual dinner, whereas someone else might prefer the opposite."
Plus, a schedule can also "keep the experience moving and help make the event feel more natural, with fewer awkward pauses."
4. Send tangible, festive elements to guests
"It’s also a fun idea to send tangible items in advance, like small Thanksgiving decorations, desserts or ingredients for do-it-yourself drinks," Chaves recommended.
"Sending something physical, even if it's small, is a great way to help everyone feel connected and like they’re truly part of an experience, even when they’re far apart," she added.
In addition to sending something, hosts can also curate fun virtual backgrounds and email the downloadable attachments for their guests to create their own virtual Thanksgiving-scape.
"I also recommend spending some time on your background. Set yourself up in a spot with great light and add some decor to set the scene," she said. "It can make the guests feel like it’s more of a traditional experience and it can make you look your best."
Check out these 8 easy steps to change your virtual background when using Zoom.
5. How to pick the best virtual platform for your party
Chaves said that choosing the right platform will help set the vibe you want to create.
"Different platforms can fulfill different needs depending on your event. For an intimate virtual Thanksgiving event, you might want to make sure it’s private, encourage conversation and participation, and even have the option to create breakout rooms for fun games or small group mingling," she said. "In this case, Zoom is a great option."
Other platforms include Google Hangouts, Youtube and Twitch, which Chaves said is a good option for anyone hosting "a blow-out event open to lots of people."
Choose a video conferencing service that your guests already have or can download easily and get familiar with ahead of the event.
6. Best way to organize a larger group to make it more intimate
Much like a party in real life, when we could step aside to have a conversation with someone, Chaves suggested utilizing features on video-conferencing services that can separate parts of the chat for you.
"Breakout rooms are a great option for big group gatherings. They make it easier for people to have meaningful conversations and connect with each other, and by rotating people through various rooms and groups, it ensures they mingle with everyone," she said. "Consider creating breakout rooms for people to share what they’re thankful for this holiday season or play board or trivia games together."
Only the Zoom host can assign participants to breakout rooms or they can choose to allow participants in the meeting to choose their own room.
You can create up to 50 breakout rooms and have a maximum of 200 participants across all breakout rooms. You can also pre-assign up to 200 participants before the meeting is started.
Check out this helpful video on how to use breakout rooms on zoom:
7. Troubleshooting technical issues in advance
"There are a few things you can do to ensure a successful event, including plugging your computer directly into your router for a faster connection than Wi-Fi," Chaves suggested. "If you can’t make a hardline connection, sit as close to your Wi-Fi router as possible."
It's also important to test your audio and video beforehand, and make sure your microphone is using its optimum settings and that your camera is in HD. Remind your guests to do the same.
"If any guests are hard of hearing or seeing, explore closed-caption options and screen readers on the platform of your choice," she said.
8. Plan a virtual-friendly group activity or game
"Playing games creates an extra level of interactivity and, in turn, connection for your attendees," Chaves said. "Adding a game to the event can be a lovely way to create some joy and silliness."
The best games that Chaves thinks work well for virtual events include trivia, Pictionary and even DIY holiday bingo.
9. Dress for the occasion and asks guests to do the same
"Encourage a festive dress code. The ritual of getting ready for a party can create anticipation and excitement for the event itself. It’ll give everyone a fun excuse to ditch their athleisure, dress up a bit and feel like a sparkly version of their everyday self," Chaves pointed out.
10. Embrace the new normal and shift your mindset
Issues are bound to pop up, but Chaves explained that you can prepare as the host and your guests to embrace the not-so-traditional parts of the occasion.
"Everyone should remember that it’s OK if you have a lot of background noise from family or roommates, and it’s OK if your kids keep jumping into the frame. Embrace these things -- they’re everyone’s reality."
Most importantly, have fun and enjoy the day!